Thursday, September 14, 2006
The 2006 Biennale exhibit “Hyper Design” at the Shanghai Art Museum’s was one of the most interesting contemporary art exhibits I’ve been to in a while. The theme of the exhibit, “Hyper Design” examined how social commentary can be expressed through design. The exhibit presented many innovative and distinctive displays of art from China and all around the world. On the website, “Hyper Design” is described as design, “[that] actively drives our era. It reflects a common aesthetic target in our era. The artists hope to explore that “design as materials” to create the conceptual art pieces…Most important of all, it links the intention of aesthetics that includes artistic value and social idealism” (http://www.shanghaibiennale.org/english/6th/theme.html). I felt the theme of social idealism was quite apparent throughout the entire exhibit. Initially, I toured the exhibit without reading the curatorial position, but the statement was clear. The year’s Biennale emphasized China’s emerging global presence, not only economically, but as a think-tank for ideas and innovation.
In my review, I will examine two pieces, one by Chinese artist Yan Jun, and the other by Dutch artist Peter Callesen. The sculpture by Peter Callesen, entitled “The Short Distance Between Time and Shadows” (2006) is a small paper sculpture of a traditional Chinese style pagoda, set against a large black shadow of Shanghai’s skyline of modern buildings and skyscrapers. In contrast, Jun’s piece entitled “Conversation,” is an installation of classical style Chinese furniture made with iron piping, instead of wood. The furniture is arranged in the manner a classical style living room.
Though Callesen and Jun’s pieces are different in style, both convey the same theme depicting the struggle to maintain Chinese culture in with the influx globalization and Western ideals. Callesen’s juxtaposition of the symbol of traditional China, the pagoda, in contrast with the modern Shanghai skyline implies an interesting tension between traditional and contemporary. Although both artists comment on China’s precarious balance between old and new, Callesen’s piece from the Western point of view emphasizes the more obvious changes China is undergoing (i.e. the building of cities, modernization, etc). Whereas Jun’s piece, from the Chinese perspective, more personally reveals the deeper social struggle to balance tradition while integrating globalization into China’s thousands of years of culture. I thought his piece was particularly striking because of the historical implication of using furniture. Classical Chinese furniture was not only functional, but embodied many cultural concepts. The placement of furniture, for example, reflected the social hierarchy of traditional China, and even the structure and material of each individual piece held meaning as well. Furniture displayed not only social habits, but had deeper cultural ties to family structure; for example, that the men would always sit at the two large head chairs, and the women would sit at the smaller chairs to the side. His representation alludes to the social changes occurring in China between tradition and modernization, not only in a technological and economic way, but also how it impacts the roots of Chinese society through the family unit, in addition to the disruption in the traditional Chinese social hierarchy system.
The Biennale exhibit, through supposedly representing ideas from all over the world, clearly emphasized China’s evolution into the modern world. Almost all of the art pieces were a spin off of something traditional, making it contemporary and modern. I think this year’s theme is especially appropriate to China today because is embodies the transformation that China is currently experiencing.